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A Progress cargo ship gets ready for launch to the ISS in 2009. A similar craft crashed back to Earth after failing to reach orbit today. AP

Astronauts may face food shortage after Russian supply craft crashes

An unmanned Russian craft, carrying nearly three tons of food, water and oxygen, is lost after it fails to reach orbit.

ASTRONAUTS ABOARD the International Space Station could be facing food, water and oxygen shortages after a Russian spacecraft carrying supplies to the station was lost after a crash.

BBC reports that the Progress M-12M cargo ship launched at 2pm today Irish time, but five minutes into the launch the spacecraft’s booster rockets cut out early – meaning the craft failed to reach orbit and was dragged back to earth by gravity.

The craft landed in a barren part of the Altai province, some 40 miles from the nearest village – but still managed to cause a massive explosion which blew out the windows of buildings up to 60 miles away. Pieces of the craft fell as far as 900 miles away from the launch site in Kazakhstan.

While the International Space Station is adequately supplied for the time being, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted a source within the country’s space industry, who said the accident was likely to mean the suspension of deliveries to the ISS.

This is particularly likely given that another Russian spacecraft failed to reach orbit last week: a rocket carrying a telecommunications satellite landed in the wrong orbit.

But with the NASA-owned space shuttle fleet being retired last month, Russian spacecraft are now the only regular means of carrying supplies to the ISS – meaning that a suspension of deliveries could lead to eventual shortages.

The crew of six currently board the craft were informed of the delivery’s failure by mission control in Moscow shortly after the delivery craft was lost.

Last month’s trip from the space shuttle Atlantis left the ISS with adequate supplies for several months, however.

Another concern is that the Soyuz-FG rocket, which will now be used to carry astronauts to and from the ISS in the absence of a shuttle, may be as vulnerable to errors as the Soyuz-U rocket that powered the Progress ship.

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